A Man of Parts

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A Man of Parts

Remembering Christopher Hitchens.

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Christopher Hitchens, relentless provocateur and coruscating wit, died yesterday at age 62 of complications from cancer, with which he had waged a very public battle. His writing graced the pages of The Wilson Quarterly on a handful of occasions over the last two decades. Hitchens being Hitchens, none of these pieces lacks verve or insight.

In 1991, for example, Hitchens reviewed an anthology of articles from The Nation—where he was a columnist from 1982 to 2002—that had been collected into a book (The Nation, 1865-1990). In what would have been an apt description of himself, he wrote, “Most reformist journalists believe in liberty and in human reason, in letting the truth speak, but they also have a mission or policy which directs how that truth shall be used to fight injustices.”

Hitchens’s interests and agendas were many and varied. In 2005, he reviewed a book on Thomas Jefferson, about whom Hitchens himself wrote a biography. Five years earlier he mulled a biography of his beloved George Orwell, who managed to “get the chief issues of the 20th century right.” These were “fascism and Nazism, Stalinism, and imperialism,” all of which Hitchens opposed in one form or another. Over the years his pen strayed to other topics in the WQ: Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March, the Spanish Civil War, the Balkans, political vitriol in Washington.  

In his review of the Nation anthology, Hitchens mentioned “the need for arrogant extremism in politics.” He was sometimes accused of adopting such a pose himself.  

In a WQ review of Hitchens’s final essay collection, Arguably, published earlier this year, Michael O’Donnell set these criticisms aside. Hitchens was an undeniable and irrepressible prizefighter. “Hitchens writes with a spontaneous, understated, digressive style, orbiting a target with asides and allusions until it is all but lost from sight,” O’Donnell wrote. “Then, like Muhammad Ali, he suddenly stops dancing and punches with his whole arm.”

Photo credit: meeshypants via flickr